If the sobering remarks of coach Brett Angell in November are anything to go by then it's safe to say the Hawke's Bay United players can't do any worse tomorrow.

A tormented Angell had described the 2-0 loss to the Hamilton Wanderers at Park Island, Napier, as the worst he had encountered in his five-season stint at the helm of the Thirsty Whale-sponsored Hawke's Bay franchise team.

Devoid of hunger and desperation in the ISPS Handa Premiership match on November 11, the Englishman had labelled the performance of the Birhanu Taye-captained side as "unacceptable".

While they had 14 rounds in hand at that stage, they don't have that luxury now as the sixth-placed side taking on the fifth one with a "must-win" caveat around the 4.35pm televised kick off against the Ricki Herbert-mentored outfit at Porritt Stadium, Hamilton.

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"We know now that time is running out [so] we need to win [because] the opposition is in close proximity of that and going for the same outcome," says Angell.

The Wanderers, on 16 points, have one more victory (five) than Bay United but the former have a zero goal differential (21 each way) compared with the latter's -7 (24 for/31 against), on 14 points.

Herbert's men will be mindful they have yet to pick a point, never mind eke out a win this year after a promising start late last year in their national summer league campaign. Losing is not an option for the hosts to secure a historic first play-offs berth on March 23-24.

Last season, Angell's troops had missed the playoffs for the first time in his reign and they are hanging in there by the skin of their teeth with Southern United nipping at their heels in seventh place on 13 points, a superior goal differential (-5) and a game in hand.

For Angell, it's time to put things right tomorrow, after two consecutive losses to Canterbury United and Auckland City FC.

"The scorelines have blown out but I don't feel it totally reflected the game," he says.

Hawke's Bay United golden-boot contender Sam Mason-Smith (right) puts Hamilton Wanderers player Joe Nottage under pressure in Napier in November. Photo/file
Hawke's Bay United golden-boot contender Sam Mason-Smith (right) puts Hamilton Wanderers player Joe Nottage under pressure in Napier in November. Photo/file

While premiership golden-boot contender Sam Mason-Smith, on equal first place (10 goals) with Andre de Jong (Eastern Suburbs), was finding the net on the other end of the park they were conceding more in defence.

"I think we have control of those situations but when we don't make good decisions we get punished so that happens quite a lot," he says.

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Lower Hutt City defender James Marsh, who played against Auckland City, enters the fray with Gavin Hoy, Bradley Perks and Tai Barham.

Hamilton Wanderers: 23. Jonathan Mannes (GK), 2. James Hoyle, 3. Joe Nottage, 5. Stafford Dowling, 6. Agustin Contratti, 8. Brad Whitworth, 9. Martin Bueno, 10. Rhys Ruka, 11. Jordan Shaw, 13. Tommy Semmy, 14. Paul Clout, 15. Joseph Terry, 17. Xavier Pratt, 18. Steffano Riley, 20. Derek Tieku, 22. Adam Luque

Coach: Ricki Herbert.

Hawke's Bay United: 1. Mackenzie Waite (GK), 4. Cameron Lindsay, 5. James Marsh, 7. Cory Chettleburgh, 9. Sam Mason-Smith, 10. Sho Goto, 11. Maxime Oliveri, 12. Ben Lack, 14. Birhanu Taye (c), 16. Gavin Hoy, 19. Luis Toomey, 20. Josh Murphy, 21. Bjorn Christensen, 22. Karan Mandair, 23. Jorge Akers, 26. Alexander Britton (RGK).

Coach: Brett Angell.